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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 May, 2005, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Developers to play with BBC wares
Woman with a laptop
The BBC is letting anyone build new applications with its content
The BBC is giving web developers and designers outside of the organisation access to its content so that they can "create cool new things".

Called backstage.bbc.co.uk, it gives people who create computer programs, applications or graphics the chance to put their stamp on BBC digital content.

At this beta stage, which is an informal launch, it aims to drum up interest and proposals for prototypes.

Launching formally this summer, there has been significant interest already.

The backstage.bbc.co.uk project offers a collection of feeds, and plans to offer APIs, and other tools for "re-mixing" and re-purposing the BBC's offerings in more flexible ways.

"We want to promote innovation and creativity on the net by opening access to some of BBC's content and services," co-project leader Ben Metcalfe told the BBC News website.

We want to identify online talent and exciting propositions that use that talent and showcase that to the world. We want people to have fun with our content as well
Ben Metcalfe, project co-leader
"Essentially, backstage.bbc.co.uk is enabling developers to create new contexts and user experiences around BBC content, like creating alternative ways to navigate, or remixing it with content and services from other providers like Yahoo."

Examples might eventually include new ways of presenting BBC weather information that makes it more personal, or different and fun ways to search entertainment material.

'Have fun'

The BBC made a commitment in its response to last year's Graf Report, which appraised what the BBC does online, to support social innovation and help user efforts.

Part of that, said Mr Metcalfe, is to develop an open community where people can share expertise, ideas, and collaborative efforts.

The project aims to stimulate a UK market for creative venture capital too.

Licence fee payers and those outside of the UK, as well as professionals and non-professionals of any age, are free to join the network.

If there is a proposal that look promising, the BBC might take it further in collaboration with the developer.

News Feeds
Sport Feeds
BBC Community feeds
Travel feeds
Entertainment feeds
Radio and Music feeds
But people are equally free to create prototypes on their websites which they can share with others too, for non-commercial use.

If a proposal looks interesting to a company other than the BBC, they are free to take them further too.

This might be relevant for an application for a specific device, such as a personal digital assistant, on which the BBC could not justify spending licence fee money.

The content currently available is mostly text-based but other content is being looked at.

The beta launch this week is aimed at getting developers to offer suggestions about what type of material with which they would like to experiment.

It is a significant move for a major content provider like the BBC, said Mr Metcalfe, and is part of the wider drive within the corporation to reduce restrictions on content as much as possible.

"We want to identify online talent and exciting propositions that use that talent and showcase that to the world. We want people to have fun with our content as well," explained Mr Metcalfe.

Building blocks

By opening up what is called its "API" - application program interface - and its content feeds to the outside world, anyone with the right skills can use BBC digital content to create new search tools, or creative ways of displaying that content.

APIs will be released gradually, as negotiations with other parts of the BBC take place.

It has taken six months to finalise agreements on use of material available so far.

An API is essentially a set of computer protocols and tools for building software applications.

Experimental Colr Pickr by Jim Bumgardner
Colr Pickr is an example of how people have used Flickr's API
It makes it easier to create a computer program by providing all the building blocks which a programmer can put together in different ways.

Other companies, such as the popular photo sharing site Flickr, have let people make innovative web applications using its API.

Some have built Flash-based applications, such as photo viewers like the Colr Pickr, that show photos according to which colour is selected on a colour palette.

Other net giants, such as Google and Yahoo, have also made their APIs available for programmers to create applications.

The idea of opening up material to communities of developers is one which is strongly advocated by Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford University law professor, who pioneered Creative Commons licences.

These make it possible to allow people to do things with an individual or company's content, but with an understanding of what is permitted under that agreement, and what is not.

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